The issue of gun control descended full force on Lansing Tuesday as the House of Representatives began hearings on a proposal to allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon without having to get a permit or training.
“It is currently legal in the state of Michigan for a law-abiding person to openly carry a firearm on their person without any training classes, fees or state bureaucracy. It only becomes illegal when a person puts on a coat because the gun then becomes concealed,” said Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, a sponsor of one of the four bills in the gun package. “Our second amendment should not be used as a money grab for permit fees.”
The hearing room and two overflow rooms were packed with people on both sides of the issue including a large contingent from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which advocates for more gun control.
“This is a dangerous bill that would allow people in Michigan, including stalkers to carry a weapon. By no means am I anti-gun. I’ve been around guns all my life,” said Scott Nichols, a member of Moms Demand Action and a former Michigan State Police trooper. “You’re opening the door for certain convicted criminals to carry concealed weapons. This bill does nothing to increase the safety of Michiganders, but makes the jobs of law enforcement harder.”
Tom Lambert, Michigan Open Carry president and legislative director, said the current law is essentially a “coat tax,” requiring people to pay for a license just for the privilege of putting on a coat that covers their weapon.
“I do have people tell me they don’t want to have to get a government license and that’s their decision to make,” he said. “But this would allow someone to put a coat on without getting permission from the government.”
Current law requires people to get a concealed pistol license from the state — at a cost of about $100 - and take eight hours of gun safety training.
The proposed bills would:
- Allow anyone to carry a concealed pistol without having to get a permit or training except for people who are prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a firearm because of certain criminal convictions.
- Remove carrying a firearm — whether it’s concealed or not — from laws that prohibit carrying dangerous weapons.
- Repeal a provision that allows security guards to only carry a concealed weapon when they’re on duty.
The loophole that allows for open carry of weapons came about when Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill in 2012 that would have allowed concealed weapons to be carried in gun-free zones. Snyder vetoed the bill in the days following the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in which Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six staff members before killing himself on Dec. 14, 2012.
While the bill allowed for concealed carry, it prohibited open carry of pistols. The veto created the loophole that has allowed the open carry of weapons, causing havoc in some schools when gun enthusiasts have entered a school or other public areas openly carrying their weapons and causing lockdowns in some schools.
The Legislature hasn’t been able to come up with a consensus on a solution to that loophole in the years since the veto.
After more than two hours of testimony, the committee didn't take a vote on the bills — HB 4416-4419 — but is expected to in the coming weeks.
"We’re definitely going to have another hearing on this next week," said Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "I don’t want to move this fast without the committee being comfortable."
State Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, wondered why some gun enthusiasts were so opposed to gun safety training, noting, "It doesn't seem like an onerous process that we have now."
David Heller, of the Fraternal Order of Police, agreed.
"To put a firearm in someone's hands with absolutely no training is absolutely absurd," he said. "We stand absolutely opposed to this legislation."
But Michael Thiede of the Michigan Gun Owners Association said before concealed-weapons permits were required, "I didn’t have to take a class to tell me I was going to be safer to do all of these things. I didn’t have to give state an extra $105. Concealed pistol permits didn’t make this state any more safe. It just made it richer."